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California Makes Progress on Wildfires, but Danger Remains

A firefighting aircraft makes a low-altitude pass to drop fire retardant to battle a wildfire near Bradbury, Calif., June 22, 2016

Nearly 5,000 firefighters worked Thursday to try to gain control over five major wildfires burning in parched California, making enough headway for officials to lift some of the evacuation orders that had forced residents to flee their homes.

But the National Weather Service issued a red flag warning for the mountains of Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, saying the combination of high temperatures, gusty winds and low humidity could challenge those crews and raise the risk of new blazes.

"It is critical that during red flag warnings the public be extra vigilant outdoors to prevent sparking a new wildfire," the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, said in a written statement, recommending that power equipment not be used after 10 a.m. or on hot, windy days.

In San Diego County, authorities lifted evacuation orders for the Mexican border community of Portrero on Thursday, saying crews had cut containment lines around 20 percent of a wildfire that blackened some 6,800 acres since it broke out. But residents of two other mountain communities, Morena Village and Campo, remained under evacuation orders. Flames have already destroyed five homes and a dozen outbuildings since they broke out near the Mexican border on Sunday morning.

Another 200 structures were considered threatened by the Border Fire, according to Cal Fire, and Highway 94 remained closed.

Northeast of L.A.

Authorities on Wednesday lifted evacuation orders on 534 homes in foothills northeast of Los Angeles as firefighters struggled to get control of two wildfires that had merged, collectively known as the San Gabriel Complex. Evacuation orders were still in effect for another 324 homes.

As of Thursday morning, the blaze had charred 5,200 acres of chaparral and grass, and containment lines had been drawn around 15 percent of the flames, according to Cal Fire.

The largest of the major California wildfires, the Sherpa Fire in Santa Barbara County, was largely contained as of Thursday, with most evacuation orders lifted.

The Pony Fire, which was ignited in the Klamath National Forest near the Oregon border by a lightning strike on June 7 and has since blackened more than 2,800 acres, was 60 percent contained as of Thursday.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has said the risk of catastrophic wildfires had increased because of the 66 million trees that had died in California from 2010 to October 2015 because of drought conditions and destructive bark beetles.